Liberian presidential candidate George Weah’s running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor began life in politics as first lady to former warlord leader Charles Taylor, but has since established a formidable political reputation in her own right.
Howard-Taylor was a surprise pick for vice-president on the ticket of the footballer turned politician, as many expected her to run for the top job herself.
Her National Patriotic Party (NPP) was formed in 1997 by members of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), Charles Taylor’s rebel fighters — to allow him to run for president in hopes of ending a civil war that began in 1989.
She married Liberia’s most powerful warlord just before he was elected in 1997 by a population weary of conflict, and was granted a divorce in 2006, while Taylor was living in exile in Nigeria with another woman.
Howard-Taylor’s political career began in earnest when she was elected in 2005 as a senator in Bong County, the nation’s third most populous county, and has since built an image as a resilient hard worker in Liberia’s male-dominated politics.
“The first thing I’ve done is to believe that I am able to make the changes I talk about,” she told AFP in a recent interview.
“I have made promises I have fulfilled in education, healthcare and infrastructure development, and so I hope over the past 12 years Jewel Howard has become her own person working for peace, working for prosperity and working for development,” she added.
Her NPP party agreed to form a coalition with Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in 2017, on the condition Howard-Taylor could run as vice-president.
No matter what she does to distance herself, Howard-Taylor’s proximity to Taylor remains a talking point, and in a nation where the ex-president is still revered by many, her presence has seemed to have been an asset for Weah.